This week, my kids started Camp Mommy. They’re done with camp until the beginning of the school year, so we call the rest of the summer “Camp Mommy.” Camp Mommy means play dates and day trips. It also means getting anything accomplished is nearly impossible. It means I’m exhausted, but it also means that I get an intensive dose of my kids’ perspective on life.
Yesterday, when I tried to write this article (unsuccessfully, I might add), my 6-year-old son, Jeremy, decided that he too would like to write a story. He dictated, and I typed a story which he titled, “Summer Vacation Fun.” It was basically a summary of what we had done for the last three days since Camp Mommy began. He included the main events of each day, but I was struck by the difference between what he wrote and what I would have written to summarize the time.
For example, on Tuesday we visited the university where I teach (to drop off a few forms). Jeremy wrote: “We went to mommy’s school. We saw where she teaches and her library that she has at her school, and we saw how the elevator was very fancy.” The university’s elevator is a regular, standard elevator, but for some reason, it struck Jeremy as “fancy” and worth mentioning. Likewise, his summary included things like taking a shower and getting dressed, both of which he also thought were significant.
In this week’s Torah portion, Moses provides summaries of the events the people have done on their trek through the desert. Like Jeremy, Moses recounts the story by recalling which events he felt were significant. Moses also articulates the lessons the people should learn from their experiences. In one particularly memorable passage, Moses said:
And now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you? Only to revere the Lord your God, to walk in all God’s paths, and to love God and work for God with all your heart and all your soul…
The word to revere in Hebrew is yirah which literally means ‘to be in awe of.’ Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel explained:
Awe is an intuition of the dignity of all things, a realization that things not only are what they are but also stand, however remotely, for something supreme. Awe is a sense of transcendence for the reference everywhere to mystery beyond all things. It enables us to perceive in the world intimations of the divine,… to sense the ultimate in the common and the simple, to feel in the rush of the passing the stillness of the eternal. What we cannot comprehend by analysis, we become aware of in awe.
Young children seem to be in a recurring state of awe. To them, the world is an adventure; no detail is insignificant. The simple activities of summer — like blowing bubbles and running through sprinklers — fill them with glee. Even elevators are exciting. For the rest of the summer, as my kids have fun in Camp Mommy, I’ll be in Camp Yirah. In the search for awe, my kids are my counselors, and I’m just along for the ride.
Rabbi Ilana Grinblat teaches biblical interpretation at the American Jewish University’s Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their two young children.